Georgy Voronoi was born on April 16th (28th), 1868, in the small town of
Pyriatyn county Poltava gubernia.[We use here the well-known transliteration:
Voronoi, in Ukrainian this name is pronounced: Heorhii Voronyi. Two birthday dates
are used because there was accepted the Julian calendar ("old style")
in the XIX century. Zhuravka is mentioned for the first time in chronicles in
1618. At the Cossack times, from 1654 till 1782, a cossack squadron
(it was called: sotnia) belonging to the Pryluky regiment was settled here, so
it had its military office, two wooden churches with Cossack schools. According
to the nowadays administrative division the Zhuravka village belongs to Varva
district of Chernihiv region}. According to the family legend, the Voronyis
acquired their family name from a Cossack captain (in Ukrainian: "esaul”), a
defender of the Voronivka Fortress which was situated to the north of Zhuravka
A picturesque hill over the Udai river was bought by Georgy'es
grandfather Yakiv Voronyi. Yakiv began his activity as a chumak [Ukrainian ox--cart
driver, salt merchant] and, earning a sufficient amount of money, he bought this patch of
land and settled here with his family.
His son (and Georgy's father) Feodosii (1837-1910) ─ was a filologist,
he graduated from Kyiv University and worked as a professor of Russian
literature at Nizhyn Lycee (1864-1872) and then he was a director of Kyshyniv,
Berdyansk, and Pryluky gymnasia. Feodosii was a person of progressive
convictions, he had a talent and a calling to enlighten the youth. Even in his
student years Feodosii was one of the initiators of Sunday free-schools for
working youth and he taught history in the Kyiv-Podil school (1859-1861). His initiative
in organizing a Sunday school was welcomed by Taras Shevchenko, who visited
this school and donated it 50 copies of his "Kobzar". Later on,
describing events of national importance at Kyiv University
in the late 1850s and early 1860s, Olena Pchilka marked the praiseworthy deeds
of the student Feodosii Voronyi in one of her essays. [Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861)
is a great Ukrainian poet and artist, all Ukrainians esteem him to be their
prophet, "Kobzar" is the book of poetry by T.Shevchenko. Olena Pchilka (1849-1930) is a well-known writer,
she was a mother of a famous Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka.]
Feodosii Voronyi left us the work in which he expressed his attitude to
teaching and education. In particular, he affirmed that "any success in political
and social life is impossible until the people have been enlightened by moral
sciences". He emphasized the need to spread historical knowledge among the
people. He believed that it "enlightens one's mind, provides one with
better understanding of his social status in life and frequently points out the
best way to use one's abilities and achieve prosperity for oneself and
wellbeing for others."
Feodosii Voronyi continued to implement his ideas of public education in
Zhuravka. He built there, at his own expense, a school for the village children.
The school became also the place where lectures, concerts, and theatrical
performances for the local population were held.
The money collected was spent to enlarge the public library which had been opened in Zhuravka.
Feodosii also found time for the gardening in Zhuravka. This, his
inherited by his elder son ─ Mykhailo. Mykhailo took an active part in creating
a small enterprise for officinal herb processing in Zhuravka (1885). This was
one of the first enterprises of such kind in
Thanks to the Voronyi family Zhuravka became a kind of cultural centre.
Georgy Voronoi studied first at Berdyansk and then at Pryluky gymnasium
from which he graduated in 1885.
In his school years he excelled among other pupils by
his deep interest in science, espesially in mathematics. His pupil's testimonial says:
"He attended lessons with good exactness. He did his assignments with great care and very thoroughly. He did
his written works quite well and in all seriousness, but due to his hurry,
which is in his nature, they sometimes had shortcomings, especially with respect
to their outward appearance and expression. He was actively interested in the subjects of study,
but sometimes he used to be absent-minded”.
And furthermore, in the column "Interest for studying", one
"With excellent abilities, in spite of his young age, he is quite mentally
developed and has a highly serious love of learning; he acquired very good
knowledge in all subjects of high school, and in mathematics, having particular
inclination and calling for it, he considerably surpassed the usual pupil's
Georgy's interest in mathematics was stimulated by his favourite teacher
of mathematics ─ Ivan Volodymyrovych Bohoslovskii, who greatly influenced his
world outlook and whole disposition. Later on in his student years G.Voronoi
several times in his diary appealed mentally to his beloved teacher.
In 1884, a
well-known mathematician, professor of
Kyiv University V.P.Yermakov started publishing the "Journal of
in which some themes for pupils' compositions were proposed. G.Voronoi
presented his paper "Decomposition of polynomials into factors based on
the properties of roots of a quadratic equation", and his work was
published in the second volume of this edition (1885). The same year G.Voronoi
At the University G.Voronoi}finally determined his future, he decided to
become a mathematician. In his student years (1885-1890) Georgy kept a diary
and, fortunately, it has been partly preserved. It is kept now at the
Manuscript Institute of the V.Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. The diary served
Georgy as a way of introspection and the author did not expect somebody to read
it. We publish fragments from the diary
below with permission of Georgy Voronoi's direct relatives.
It is a sincere self-confession of a young man; he carefully analyzes his
actions, speaks ironically about himself but can sensibly evaluate his own
abilities, fights with his complacency, tries to be independent and resists the
influences of those who prevent the realization of his plans. The author of the
diary is a sensitive young man full of energy and enthusiasm, with a lot of
different passions even in his school years, for example, music (he can play
piano and flute), theatre (he
participates in performances), playing chess and other games, hunting, etc. He is able to take one's
sufferings to heart and give an active
help, sometimes he criticizes himself for the cruelty and hard-heartedness, and
egoism, sometimes he can be too categorical and hot-tempered but afterwards he
feels sorry and tries, as he writes, "to reach everything by heart but not just
by his intellect”. Georgy describes his daily life, nothing out of the way, but
turning over these pages the reader certainly feels the peculiarity and attractiveness
of that life, which we have lost now, is it for ever?
First records in the diary tell us about Voronoi's arrival in St.-Petersburg (August, 1885). We see him at the rector's
reception room. Voronoi handed him the recommendation letter from Hrihorii
Galagan [H.Galagan (1819-1889) is a well-known
Ukrainian patron of education, he founded a private college ─ Pavlo Galagan
College (named after his
early deceased son) and supported it by
his own means]. Feodosii Voronyi was acquainted with H.Galagan and discussed with him problems
of education and pedagogical staff. The rector received him amiably and asked:
─ Of course, you enter at your own expense?
I answered that I had no objections to enter at public expense.
─ You, of course, will study perfectly well, you will feel at home at Collegia
is a hostel for the University students], and then we shall make you
a grant-aided student.
G.Voronoi got his student grant only on the fourth, the last year of studying.
Lack of money constantly oppressed him. The money which his father sent was too
little, it covered chiefly his lodging rent. Georgy had to earn for life
himself, mainly by private lessons. The dream to get a separate room appeared
to be unreal too. His neighbour bothered him with his petty demands and
captious objections. He felt isolated, without friends, he even doubted the
possibility of finding new friends. Every meeting with his fellow ─ countryman
was an event, and he wrote about it in his diary. His thoughts again and again
turned to the reminiscences of his home
and of his school years in Pryluky.
A particular place in the diary
is occupied with his recollections about his acquaintance and the development
of his relations with Olia Krytska, his future wife. Every summer vacation
Georgy spent in Zhuravka, his native land. The impressions of his visits to
Bohdany, a small village where Krytsky
lived, predominated in his summer records. Georgy wrote about his feelings so
sincerely, with such virtue and temperament (/events are almost ignored, only
his feelings are recorded), that these pages are read like a real novel. He determined once and
forever for himself that his destiny was in Bohdany, but he concealed his feelings for the time
being because he had no pecuniary base for his own family. His father insisted
on this decision. Such a vagueness in relations brought him many sufferings,
but he patiently waited his time and did not permit any other passion to find
the way to his heart.
The years when Voronoi was studying at the University were the period of
active political reaction all over Russia. The reactionary University
statute in which all the academic life was placed under the police supervision
was issued in 1884.
In 1885 a
special uniform for students was introduced, the main aim of this action was to
make it easier to watch them. The educational fee was raised five times in 1887,
and this prevented the access to higher education for insufficiently provided
youth. The same year every student had to sign a special document he committed
in which himself not to enter any secret societies and even "not to
enter any allowed society without special permission, and to take no part in
gatherings". All this
influenced the general feeling and world outlook of the young man. G.Voronoi
wrote in this connection:
...”Our characteristic feature
is mistrust. We do not trust each other. When walking along the university
corridor I speak with my comrade in whisper, because I do not trust other students
─ comrades around me”.
"Our time is a hard one, we are
but victims of a terrible regime; now you can't say outright even an innocent
thing, or you will get at once in hands of the readers of the human heart”.
The false feelings and hypocrisy that reigned around him led him to seclude
himself from social life. The interest in mathematics absorbed him more and
He tried to learn very persistently, often it was even instead of a
night's sleep, but he was not an ascetic, on the contrary, he had a lot of
On the third year of his studying Voronoi wrote in his diary:
"Now I am caught with a real desire to work without being urged to start
To-day I have been working much as well. Put down 6 lectures, so when putting
the last one my hand even was not able to write. I get up at five in the
morning and go in for mathematics. What a marvelous thing it is! Though it
abounds in formulas, but all of them are so symmetric that can be easily